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US 113 Planning Study

Maryland State Highway Administration
Eastern Shore, Maryland

Introduction

Project Area Demographics
Worcester County population: 46,543
Racial and Ethnic Composition:
  • Hispanic or Latino: 16.5%
  • White: 81.2%
  • African American: 16.7%
  • Other: 2.1%
  • Percent population change (1990-2000): 32.9%
Source: 2000 U.S. Census

US 113 is an important regional arterial highway, linking a number of geographically dispersed population centers in Worcester County, Maryland, including Pocomoke City, Snow Hill, Berlin, and Ocean City. Both Worcester County residents and interstate travelers rely on US 113 to serve their long-distance travel needs through the eastern portion of the Delmarva region, connecting with US 13 in Virginia. This project corridor follows a very old north-south route originally dating back to 1697.

The need to dualize US 113 originated due to the number of severe traffic incidents experienced by motorists along its two-lane, undivided sections. From 1980 to 1995, US 113 in Worcester County, Maryland, locally referred to as the Worcester Highway, experienced a much higher annual fatal accident rate than other similar highways within the state of Maryland as a whole (6.3 fatal accidents per million vehicles miles of travel versus 2.7). The northern portion of the roadway also demonstrated a higher injury accident rate and overall accident rate than the state as a whole. A total of 443 accidents were identified along the two-lane portions of US 113 during the seven-year period from 1990 through 1996. As a result of this trend, County Residents Action for Safer Highways (CRASH), a local citizens group, along with local officials, requested the Maryland Department of Transportation's (MDOT) State Highway Administration (SHA) to conduct an accident investigation and evaluation of improvements to address safety conditions along the Worcester Highway. In response to this request, the SHA, in coordination with FHWA, conducted the US 113 Planning Study, which was the subject of an EIS initiated in 1997.

Maryland US 113 Project Limits along the Eastern Shore
US 113 Project Limits (Source: US 113 website)

The US 113 Planning Study consisted of two study areas, a southern study area and a northern study area (see map). The southern study area was located along US 113 from Snow Hill to south of Berlin (extending approximately 16.3 miles) and the northern study area was located along US 113 from north of Berlin to the Delaware state line (extending approximately 7.5 miles).

The majority of the study area was rural, primarily consisting of agricultural and forest / woodland areas. However, it also included several small, predominately residential communities. These included: Ironshire, Basket Switch, and Wesley in the southern study area and Jones, Friendship, Showell, and Bishop in the northern study area. These communities are dominated by single-family detached housing, some neighborhood businesses and a few small industrial operations.

Project Purpose

The purpose of the US 113 planning project was to develop and evaluate various alternatives aimed at improving safety conditions and traffic operations along the two-lane portions of US 113. In addition to the previously mentioned high accident rates, the Levels of Service (LOS) along both two-lane study portions were projected to decline from their current LOS C/D ratings during summer months to LOS F by the design year 2020. It was further determined that traffic conditions currently being experienced in the summer along the existing two-lane portions of US 113 would be equivalent to the yearly average conditions in the design year, while summer weekend conditions would be substantially worse. The projected LOS change demonstrated the need for operational improvements.

How Project Development Advanced Through NEPA

Project Chronology
  • 3 Initial Planning Studies: early
    1970s, late 1980s & mid-1990s
  • Notice of Intent Issued: February 1997
  • Draft EIS Approved: May 1997
  • NEPA Public Hearing: June 1997
  • Final EIS Approved: February 1998
  • Record of Decision: May 1998
Source: US 113 Final EIS & ROD

Working under an expedited schedule, the NEPA process for the US 113 project took 15 months from Notice of Intent (NOI) to Record of Decision (ROD). The project followed the Streamlined Environmental and Regulatory Process for Maryland. Planning studies dating back almost 30 years had, however, identified some of the alternatives and potential impacts, which served as a preview as well as a facilitator for the actual NEPA process.

Previous Planning Studies

A project planning study for the dualization of US 113 in the northern study area was originally conducted in the early 1970s, at which time an alignment had been selected. Although some right-of-way along the corridor had been preserved, subsequent development occurred within the areas where right-of-way would be required in the future. The present map of interchange MD 90 and US 113 (see map to the right) is an example of where work had been done during the 70s. When the improvements to MD 90 were constructed, a number of improvements to US 113 at the interchange were also incorporated into the project at that time. These included the construction of a bridge over future US 113, partially graded ramps, fill, and the purchase of right-of-way.

Diagram of Maryland Route 90 & 113 Interchange with Access Management
MD 90/113 Access Management

The next study began in the late 1980s which took into account changes in environmental regulations that had occurred since the original study was completed. Several alternatives and their impacts were identified in that study. In 1990, an Alternatives Public Meeting was held, after which the project was dropped with the understanding that many of the safety and operational issues could be most cost-effectively addressed through local intersection improvements by SHA.

US 113 Planning Study

Fatalities continued to occur along US 113 at an alarming rate following the decision to drop plans for dualization in 1990. As a result, the local citizens group CRASH was formed and became very vocal about this trend and their support for improvements along the two-lane portions of US 113 in Worcester County. As a direct result of CRASH's efforts, the Governor and local officials requested that SHA study the highway, identify safety issues, and develop strategies to address them.

The US 113 Planning Study initiated in 1995 transitioned into the preparation of a full EIS pursuant to NEPA with the filing of a Notice of Intent in February 1997. In May 1997, the Draft EIS was signed and distributed for public review. A Combined Location / Design Public Hearing, which was co-sponsored by SHA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was then held in June 1997 to satisfy the requirements of NEPA. The various alternatives presented in the Draft EIS were presented and discussed at the Public Hearing. Thirty-three citizens and twelve local officials spoke at the hearing and all were in favor of dualization along the two-lane portions of US 113. From September 1997 to January 1998, all necessary agency letters concurring on the SHA's Preferred Alternative were received and, in February of 1998, the Final EIS was approved, with the issuance of a Record of Decision shortly thereafter in May.

"Of all the planning projects in 25 years, it was most impressive to see the intensity and sincerity of the citizens wanting US 113 dualized."
–-David Wallace, RKK Engineers

Development of project alternatives began in early 1995 with the preparation of an environmental inventory of resources in the study area. Environmental constraints mapping was developed and field work was used to further refine wetland boundaries, verify known and previously unknown historic sites, and assess the potential for archaeological resources.

In November of 1995, an Alternatives Public Workshop was held to present the preliminary alternatives for public comment. More than two hundred citizens attended the workshop and a total of forty-two written and verbal comments were received. Nearly all of them agreed that further improvements were needed throughout the project study area, and almost half were in favor of a relocated US 113 in the northern study area. Comments and ideas received at the workshop were incorporated into the development of the detailed alternatives and future selection of the Preferred Alternative.

NEPA EIS Process

Key Factors of the NEPA Processs
  • Overwhelming public support
  • Political support
  • Streamlined Environmental and Regulatory Process

The US 113 Planning Study initiated in 1995 transitioned into the preparation of a full EIS pursuant to NEPA with the filing of a Notice of Intent in February 1997. In May 1997, the Draft EIS was signed and distributed for public review. A Combined Location / Design Public Hearing, which was co-sponsored by SHA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was then held in June 1997 to satisfy the requirements of NEPA. The various alternatives presented in the Draft EIS were presented and discussed at the Public Hearing. Thirty-three citizens and twelve local officials spoke at the hearing and all were in favor of dualization along the two-lane portions of US 113. From September 1997 to January 1998, all necessary agency letters concurring on the SHA's Preferred Alternative were received and, in February of 1998, the Final EIS was approved, with the issuance of a Record of Decision shortly thereafter in May.

While the 15-month NEPA process for this project was one of the shortest recorded durations for an FHWA project in recent years, it was primarily due to the way in which Maryland proceeds with its projects. Much of the inventory review and impact assessment work for the most likely alternatives being considered is actually performed prior to the filing of the Notice of Intent. This process, in turn, explains how it only took SHA three months to prepare a Draft EIS following filing of the Notice of Intent. This procedure is considered to be standard for the environmental review process in Maryland.

The NEPA review of the project took place under the umbrella of the Maryland Streamlined Environmental and Regulatory Process. This process allows NEPA environmental documentation developed by the SHA to be used by the various reviewing, permitting, and funding agencies in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. The process provides opportunities for agency input and includes requests for formal concurrence or comment at three key milestones:

  • purpose and need;
  • alternatives retained for detailed study; and
  • selected alternative and conceptual mitigation.

Some of these milestones, however, can actually precede the filing of the Notice of Intent, and therefore, would technically occur outside of the official NEPA process.

Section of US 113 Before and After Photographs

Political and public support was also an important factor in expediting the project through the NEPA process. The broad community support for the project had its roots in the high fatality rates of the two-lane segments of US 113. A total of forty-two fatal accidents occurred between 1980 and 1997. The local community group, CRASH, lobbied the Governor and elected officials to address concerns about the continuing accidents along US 113. CRASH requested that the SHA prepare an accident investigation and evaluation of improvements to address the safety conditions within the study area due to the number of fatal accidents.

Letter writing campaigns were initiated, as CRASH rallied community support for the project. Citizens sent many letters to their Representatives and Senators in Washington, D.C., as well as to state-level elected officials. Over 2000 letters arrived, many of which were written to the state Transportation Secretary, urging him to consider safety improvements to the highway, while others were directed towards the state and federal permitting agencies. The efforts of the letter writing campaign led Maryland's Senators to lobby the SHA to expedite the project.

Additionally, at the June 1997 Public Hearing, many supporters of the project, including community residents who had lost family members or friends to accidents in the corridor, expressed their strong support for the project. Elected officials from the study area, as well as from across the state line in Delaware, attended the emotionally charged hearing.

The public and political pressure eventually led the SHA to give the project top priority. Supervisors were authorized to allow staff to work overtime. Internal status meetings were held weekly to ensure constant communication among staff. Other projects were temporarily shelved in order to accommodate the US 113 project schedule.

In the case of other agencies involved in the process, the project was not initially a high priority. In fact, the SHA had a difficult time obtaining concurrence from the resource agencies on the Purpose and Need. Traffic volumes on this section of US 113 were not considered to be sufficient to trigger thresholds for widening to four lanes. The SHA had to prove to the other agencies that four lanes were necessary. Using the conflict resolution process, the SHA highlighted the need for the project based on the traffic fatality data, as well as the overall public support for the project. Eventually the SHA was able to gain concurrence on the Purpose and Need.

Preferred Alternative

Project Snapshot
  • Dualization of existing highway on new
    & existing alignment
  • 23.8-mile project corridor
  • Bridge construction & interchange improvements
Source: US 113 Dualization project website

The Preferred Alternative for the southern and northern study areas were similar, consisting of a dual highway with a thirty-four foot wide grassed median with guardrail including inner shoulders (except at eight sensitive wetland crossings), two twelve foot travel lanes in each direction, ten foot paved outer shoulders, and twenty feet of roadside safety grading. This general cross section was proposed wherever feasible and appropriate. In the case of the Southern Preferred Alternative, the widening and dualization was primarily proposed to occur immediately adjacent to the existing two lane roadway, although the magnitude of widening on each side could be shifted in order to avoid or minimize impacts. In the case of the Northern Preferred Alternative, portions would be constructed on both new and existing alignment.

Additionally, the SHA worked closely with local representatives to develop an access management strategy. The strategy included:

  • Monitoring future development and requiring that property redeveloped only access US 113 via public roads,
  • Limiting access to controlled intersections, and
  • Relocating portions of the highway, and constructing frontage roads to serve existing development.

Normal Typical Cross Section Dualizing US 113

Together, these strategies fully addressed the safety and operational issues motivating the project, while minimizing environmental impacts. Therefore, these combined elements were selected as the overall Preferred Alternative.

Other Alternatives Considered

Aside from the Preferred Alternative, two non-build alternatives and several combinations of build alternatives for the southern and northern sections were fully considered. The non-build alternatives included a No-Build Alternative and a Transportation Systems Management (TSM) Alternative. The No-Build Alternative included only minor improvements associated with routine maintenance and safety operations. The TSM Alternative consisted of local intersection improvements, other safety and operational improvements (such as signing and additional turning and acceleration/deceleration lanes), and traffic management strategies to provide relatively low cost refinements to the existing transportation system. Neither of these alternatives was found to adequately address the safety issues along US 113.

Originally a total of seventeen build alternatives were evaluated, each of which considered two median widths and two design speed limits. The non-selected build alternatives consisted of a variety of improvement concepts. Several unselected build alternatives retained the one-travel lane in each direction but included either a 20-foot or 34-foot median. Other alternatives were based on dualized and widened roadways on either new or existing alignment with either 20-foot or 34-foot medians. The non-selected build alternatives were not chosen as the Preferred Alternative either because they did not fully address the safety and operational issues motivating the project or because they resulted in more significant environmental impacts than the Preferred Alternative.

Environmental and Other Issues

Even though the Preferred Alternative was considered to result in fewer environmental impacts than some of the other build alternatives, several environmental issues associated with the Preferred Alternative remained. These included: loss of wetlands; adverse effects to community cohesion; impact to an archaeological and historical site; destruction of habitat for threatened and endangered species; loss of farmlands; and secondary / cumulative impacts. Of these issues, loss of wetlands and adverse effects to community cohesion were considered to be the most significant.

Summary of Environmental Issues
  • Loss of wetlands
  • Impacts to community cohesion
  • Impact to an archaeological / historic site
  • Destruction of habitat for listed species
  • Loss of farmlands
  • Secondary / cumulative effects
Source: US 113 Dualization ROD

During preparation of the Draft EIS, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and other resource agencies expressed strong concerns pertaining to wetland loss resulting from the dualization alternatives. Through a series of conflict resolution meetings, ACOE, SHA, and other pertinent agencies were able to focus on these issues and formulate refinements to the project. Mitigation techniques were discussed in order to avoid and minimize adverse impacts on wetlands and thus alleviate the agencies' concerns. The refinements that were incorporated into the Preferred Alternative included: use of retaining walls and sheet piling; narrowing the median to reduce the overall width of the highway at several critical locations; and a Wetland and Waterway Mitigation Plan that integrated 67.5 acres of wetland creation to compensate for 26.6 acres of impact. In addition, the SHA agreed to include incentives in the construction contracts for the reduction of wetland impacts including enhancing / restoring 2.34 acres of wetlands or a net reduction of 25 percent of total wetlands that potentially could have been adversely affected as part of the phase I contract. Also, SHA agreed to employ an environmental monitor to ensure that permit conditions were maintained during construction. On the basis of these refinements and mitigation measures, the federal and state resource agencies concurred with the Preferred Alternative.

Proposed Route 113 Relocation to Avoid Historic Church
Proposed Route 113 Relocation
to avoid historic church

During the NEPA process, the Friendship/Jones community expressed concern over the project's potential to affect their overall sense of cohesion. The Friendship/Jones community strongly opposed dualization of US 113 along its existing alignment because of concerns regarding property values, residential displacements, access issues, and noise levels, all of which combined could impact their community. The SHA took their concerns into account by proposing to relocate sections of US 113 from the areas of concern. In this manner, not only was displacement of a number of businesses and residences avoided, but the amount of right-of-way required was also reduced. The communities overwhelmingly supported this strategy and it was incorporated into the Preferred Alternative. As a result of the Preferred Alternative design and location characteristics, displacements along the entire corridor, including both project areas, was limited to 15 residences and 5 businesses.

A memorandum of agreement (MOA) was reached with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Maryland State Historic Preservation Office, and the Maryland Historic Trust regarding potential impacts to the St. Martin's church. This church was on the National Register and located in the northern project area (see map on previous page). To address the adverse effects to the church, the MOA spelled out the roles and responsibilities for each agency.

Two state-listed endangered species, including the seaside alder in the southern study area and the blackbanded sunfish in the northern study area, would be potentially impacted by the dualization. In order to minimize the impacts, it was proposed to transplant the seaside alder to another suitable habitat. In the case of the blankbanded sunfish, a "no in-stream construction" requirement during four months of the year was required and the use of strict sediment and erosion control measures was proposed in order to prevent sediment contamination.

In addition, approximately 115 acres of farmland along the Southern Preferred Alternative and 60.4 acres along the Northern Preferred Alternative would be impacted. Secondary impacts were also identified, primarily related to the potential for secondary development to occur in this generally rural area. Despite this potential for secondary development, a number of physical constraints, land use controls, soil suitability issues, and legislative regulations were noted to limit this type of future impact.

Current Status

Section of US 113 Thumbnail Before and After Construction

Currently, construction of the US 113 Dualization Project is ahead of schedule. Contracts 1 and 2 from north of US 50 to north of Jarvis Road, both of which are located in the northern project area, are already complete. Contract 3 in the northern study area terminates at the Delaware line and will be finished by 2003. The southern project area recently received engineering funds to enable surveys and design of that section to begin.

Lessons Learned

The US 113 Planning Study, which resulted in the approval of widening and dualization of portions of the highway, showed that despite significant environmental concerns and agency resistance early in the planning efforts, the NEPA process can be completed in a timely manner by:

  • Implementing a streamlined NEPA process;
  • Building on strong local citizen and public support; and
  • Initiating NEPA-type studies outside of the official NEPA process.

These three factors are discussed in detail below.

Implement a Streamlined NEPA Process that Applies to all Projects

The US 113 project benefited from conducting NEPA via the Maryland Streamlined Environmental and Regulatory Process. This statewide streamlined process was already in place at the time of project initiation, and the participating agencies were experienced in its application and in their respective roles and responsibilities. The main features of the process involve preparation of resource agencies' permitting and approval needs during the NEPA process, and concurrence of resource agencies at specific milestones. This process ensured a reduction in paperwork and redundant analyses, and also allowed the SHA to proceed with project development knowing that resource agencies were on board. This reduced surprises down the road and ensured that all agencies have access to the same information in reviewing a project. This helped set the stage for the review of EIS sections as they were completed later in the NEPA process and helped expedite the resolution of environmental concerns.

Key Agencies in the NEPA Process
  • Federal Highway Administration
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • National Parks Service
  • Maryland State Highway Administration
  • Maryland Department of Natural Resources
  • Maryland Historic Trust
Source: MSERP, US 113 Final EIS

Incorporated into this planning process was the decision to implement a modified process to combine the NEPA and Section 404 processes. The official merger of the NEPA process and the 404 process (Environmental Streamlining) in Maryland was not completed and approved until January 2000, but the process was employed during the NEPA process for the US 113 project. This modification proved successful as it was estimated to have saved approximately a year in comparison to treating separately the NEPA and Section 404 processes. Through negotiation, it also allowed the use of the EIS as the Federal 404 permit application, thereby saving more time. This was the first time the document was used as the actual permit application. It also allowed SHA to obtain a permit to disturb wetlands from right-of-way to right-of-way, allowing for significantly more flexibility for the Design-Build team.

Public and Political Support can Help Push a Project through the NEPA Process

The US 113 project was the subject of immense public and political support. Citizens concerned about safety issues engaged in an intense and dramatic letter writing campaign, demanding the support of their elected officials for a safer highway. Additionally, many citizens expressed their strong support for the project by attending public meetings and the hearing, telling their story of losing family members or friends to accidents in the US 113 corridor. This in turn led to pressure on the SHA and permitting agencies to give the project top priority and push it through the NEPA process.

"It's most certainly been a rewarding experience to be directly involved with the US 113 Dualization Projects. To manage these projects with overwhelming community support and see the new facilities open to traffic in record time, has been truly satisfying."
–John Zanetti, Maryland SHA

Initiate NEPA-type Studies in Advance of the Formal NEPA Process

Admittedly, a major reason why the formal NEPA process was so short on this project in comparison to many other EISs prepared in recent years was the fact that NEPA-type studies were initiated in advance of the filing of the Notice of Intent. Since the purpose and need and alternatives identification had already occurred prior to the official start of NEPA, as had most of the environmental inventory work and impacts assessment, it became a relatively manageable task to package all of the pertinent information in a detailed EIS document in a mere three months. This allowed the formal NEPA process to proceed relatively quickly, although the technical studies related to preparation of the EIS are not actually taken into account as part of that process.

References

Sue Rajan, Project Manager - Planning
John Zanetti, Project Manager - Design
Joe Kresslein, Assistant Division Chief - Planning
Office of Planning and Preliminary Engineering
MDOT, Maryland State Highway Administration
707 North Calvert Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
1-800-548-5026

David Wallace, PE, Partner
Rummel, Klepper & Kahl, LLP
81 Mosher Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21217
410-728-2900

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